Hidden Figures (2017) starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, & Janelle Monae

A poster for the movie Hidden Figures

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

This is a crowd-pleasing Hollywood movie (which I saw w/ my mom 2 wks ago), BUT about a subject we’ve NEVER heard about- three professional African-American (then referred to as “Negro”) women at NASA in the ’60s. ALL the ladies give strong performances here; they have strong chemistry that makes their long-time friendship seem real. At the center is Katherine Coleman (Taraji P. Henson of Empire)- a former child prodigy, widow, mom of 3 young daughters, and mathematician. Her mind works fast, BUT working w/ the team of engineers (under Al Harrison- Kevin Costner in a low-key performance) prepping for the first manned rocket launch IS a challenge. Katherine grows in her job, gaining confidence and respect (even from racist senior engineer Paul Stafford- Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory).

Katherine works out the math for a future rocket launch.

In some ways, the film is traditional, esp. how the problems are wrapped up quite nicely. We get the feeling that MAYBE Mary Jackson’s (Janelle Monae) hubby, Levi (Aldis Hodge- star of Underground), is NOT all in for his wife working such long hours and becoming an engineer. However, there are moments where you want to cheer, b/c these ladies are succeeding w/ SO much stacked against them (in a segregated South- Langley, VA). Even going to the bathroom is a hassle, since the “colored” restroom is located on the other side of the large campus!

Hidden Figures Day 41
Katherine surrounded by her coworkers (all white and male) engineers.

This story would NOT have been told w/o the 2014 book upon which it’s based by Margot Lee Shetterly. She is the daughter of a NASA engineer (her dad); she also grew up in the same town as these “human computers.” As a youngster, Shetterley knew these ladies as neighbors and fellow churchgoers. Yes, we are in the time before IBM was a household name, though eventually Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) learns FORTRAN to program the new computer.  

Col. John Glenn (Glen Powell) meets Katherine Johnson.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a math/science/history nerd to LOVE this film. (I personally liked the historical elements, esp. the clothes and cars.) One of my fave elements was the slow burn romance between Katherine and a National Guardsman, Major Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali- also in Moonlight). “It’s very rare to see a black man pursuing a black woman” (as was discussed on the JAN 25th Slate Culture Gabfest). Henson and Ali have great chemistry. The surprise proposal/family dinner scene had me in tears!

The “computers” gather around the TV to watch Col. Glenn’s historic launch.

Films like this are important, esp. today when certain world leaders are trying to close-up borders, restrict (legal) immigration, and creating unease (in anyone who isn’t straight/ white/Republican/ male). Why NOT take the example of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) in this film?  According to historians (and his contemporaries), Glenn was considered “ahead of his time” when it came to race relations. Though one of the white women supervisors tried to rush him inside, Glenn (who later became an Ohio senator) walked over to where the black computers were standing in the welcome line; they shook hands and chatted briefly. Without the combined work on dozens of black women, he would never have gone into space! 


The Theory of Everything (NOW PLAYING)

Stephen and Jane falling in love
Stephen and Jane falling in love

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

This is a feel-good love story that’s suitable for all ages (if you need something to watch w/ the family).  The film is based on the autobiography by renowned physicist Stephen Hawkings’ wife, Jane.  In 1963, Oxford Ph.D. student, Stephen (Eddie Redmayne), meets pretty/approachable undergrad Jane (Felicity Jones) at a school dance.  Since he’s not much of  dancer, they spend most of the night talking.  There is mutual interest, though Jane’s gal pal calls Stephen “odd, but clever.”  We learn that Jane also wants to get a Ph.D. though she’s in the arts.

Reality vs. film wedding photos
Reality vs. film wedding photos

Stephen’s closest pal, and fellow physicist, Brian is played by up-and-coming Harry Lloyd (who I’ve watched in Robin Hood and Dr. Who).  His role wasn’t too big, but he added touches of humor to the film.  Solid character actor David Thewlis plays Stephen’s supportive advisor, Dennis Shiama.

Stephen playing with his kids
Stephen playing with his kids

Stephen collapses one day in the yard.  A doctor tells him that he has a rare, early onset form of ALS (a condition that will weaken his body, but leave his mind intact).  He doesn’t want to talk, even w/ Brian, and decides to avoid Jane.  Being a concerned, Jane seeks Stephen out in his dorm.  He tries to get rid of her (thinking that he’s gotten a death sentence), but she won’t have it.

Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival
Eddie Redmayne & Felicity Jones at Toronto International Film Festival

Over time, they date, marry, have children, though the road is not smooth.  Studying for Ph.D.s, living on a small budget, and raising a family is very challenging/stressful; my parents did it as immigrants to the US.  Along with that, Stephen copes with his disease, writes a book about his black hole theory, and (slowly) makes a mark in the field on cosmology.

Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show
Eddie Redmayne on The Daily Show

Before I watched this film, I didn’t even know that Hawking was British!  I’m not knowledgeable about his work, but science is only a small part of this story.  The focus is the love between two very mentally strong, caring, resilient, and intellectual individuals.  The leads have great chemistry- they fit perfectly as a couple.  (I’ve been following these actors for some years, so was glad to see them in these meaty roles.)  Redmayne, who always has an innocent and likable quality, must’ve worked very hard on his physical transformation! Some critics call this type of movie “Oscar bait.”  The colors are saturated, the music is very well-suited, and there is a very rosy outlook throughout the film.  My friends and I liked it a lot.  Stephen Hawking commented that watching this film “was like watching myself as a young man.”